By Bill Hollingshead
Rotary International created Polio Plus in 1985 with the mission of totally eradicating polio, also known as infantile paralysis, across the globe. At that time, there were 375,000 cases in 125 countries. Recently, the polio cases were down to fewer than 1,000 cases in only three countries.
However, The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the spread of polio is an international public health emergency. Outbreaks in Asia, Africa and the Middle East are an “extraordinary event” needing a coordinated “international response,” the agency says. “Pakistan, Cameroon, and Syria pose the greatest risk of further wild poliovirus exportations in 2014.”
Polio mainly affects children younger than 5 years old. The virus is transmitted through contaminated food and water, and multiplies in the intestine. It can then invade the nervous system, causing paralysis in one in every 200 infections. It is capable of causing death within hours.
The Rotary Club of Davis has been a leader in both fundraising and spreading the word to create public awareness of the “world’s greatest crippler.” At a recent annual Davis Rotary Barbecue in Central Park, an actual 750-pound iron lung was exhibited as a chilling reminder of the devastation of the disease, and that some polio victims spend the rest of their lives in what has been described as “being held captive in the steel prison.”
Rotary members who have been on trips to infected countries to inoculate children include past Rotary President Paul Hart, who went to Benin, and I, a 1951 polio survivor, who went to Ghana and returned to raise $1 million in a decade-long series of fundraising talks that I have given in both Africa and South America.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been supporting Rotary International and WHO in the polio eradication effort with a pledge of $1.8 billion.